I was having a discussion with some friends the other day and it found its way around to discussing religion. One question was raised and I wasn't quite sure how to answer it. One of them asked, "If God is all powerful and all knowing, why does he let people (those who haven't heard the Word) die? They're given no chance be believe or not and are condemned to hell because of it."
It being very late when we were having this conversation and I was unable to come up with an adequate response so I'm curious what you would say to someone if they posed that question to you.
Thanks for your time
That's a good question.
This is question is called the "fate of the unevangelized" in theology. I think you mean, "why does God allow them to go to hell" rather than "why does God allow them to die." I think you mean that, of course, because non-Christians die all the time. Physical death is the final event of (nearly) all humans.
To be clear: people aren't condemned to hell because they didn't hear the gospel. They are condemned to hell because they are sinners. It's like saying, if you don't mind the analogy: When people have a terrible illness (like cancer), they die because cancer killed them, not because they didn't take medicine. "Not taking medicine" doesn't kill someone. Similarly, "not hearing the gospel" doesn't kill someone. The "terrible illness" of sin is what "kills" a person. (I say more about this in my book on Amazon.com.)
To be clear: all Christians believe that the death of Jesus did something for other humans, something objective. His death has a “saving effect” for humans when it is applied to them. He didn't just set a good example. His death actually did something for us that we could not do for ourselves.
(I recorded a podcast on this that you might find helpful: http://traffic.libsyn.com/davidpendergrass/What_does_it_mean_that_Jesus_died_for_me.mp3 ).
So, Christians all agree that the saving benefit of Jesus’s death is applied; we disagree on what it takes for it to be applied. That is, what are the conditions necessary for Jesus’s death to help me? Do I need to hear something? Say something? Believe something?
There are three major views on this issue (and this is extremely brief!). So, what must a person do or believe before Jesus’s saving death will be applied to them?
1. Exclusivism – A person must hear/read the gospel and respond in faith (and for many, be baptized). If the person doesn’t hear in this life time then, in the end, the proper punishment for that person will be hell because of his/her sinning throughout life.
2. Inclusivism – A person must repent to the degree that they can based on the amount of knowledge s/he has of God. If the person doesn’t live according to the Moral Law placed within him/her to the best of his/her ability, and repent of a life of selfishness, etc., then that person will deserve hell. Obviously, this view holds that God judges people according to a different standard than the first view, since each person has different capacities and opportunities (such as the mentally handicapped, children, those who never have access to the gospel, etc.).
3. Molinism (or Middle Knowledge) – A person must hear/read the gospel and respond in faith. And…God knows exactly what a person would choose if presented with the gospel. So, if a person never hear/reads the gospel it means s/he would have not responded in faith even if s/he received the gospel. So, if the gospel doesn’t make it to them, it means that they would have said, “no,” anyway.
Another minor view is that after death, those who have never heard are presented the gospel and given a chance before judgment. Another view (very popular among Roman Catholics) is that people who go to hell will eventually be punished enough, be purified, and be allowed access to Heaven (the doctrine of Purgatory).
In short, I believe Inclusivism is the most compelling (for a variety of reasons, including biblical). Here is a good book on the issue: http://www.amazon.com/What-About-Those-Never-Heard/dp/0830816062/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1445907906&sr=8-2&keywords=fate+of+the+unevangelized
These are my thoughts! I hope you have fun reading!